GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - There was racial and political controversy at a high school football game -- sparked by students off the field.
Forest Hills Central played Grand Rapids' Ottawa Hills last Friday night. Some Forest Hills Central students brought a Donald Trump banner and an older version of the U.S. flag, sometimes associated with white supremacist groups.
A photo of the students has gone viral.
Forest Hills Schools Superintendent Dan Behm says his students had no racial intentions. He says they simply did not understand how those symbols would be perceived. On Tuesday, Sept. 13, he offered an apology to the other school district.
The spotlight is no longer on Friday's football game, but instead on what happened beyond the sidelines.
"A picture can go around the world in a millisecond," Behm said.
A photo shows students from Forest Hills, a predominantly white team, carrying a Donald Trump banner and a racially-charged flag symbolizing the original 13 U.S. colonies. It's sometimes referred to as the Betsy Ross Flag.
The home team at Houseman Field, Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, is made up of largely black players.
"I am confident there was no racial animus on the part of any of our students," Behm said. "Students were not fully aware and knowledgeable of how their actions could be interpreted."
However, it's caused a stir on social media. One Ottawa Hills parent even shared a letter online to the Forest Hills superintendent and principal. It questions why the parents and school staff did not make the students aware of the negative consequences from their actions beforehand.
Superintendent of Grand Rapids Schools, Teresa Weatherall Neal, released a statement as well.
"I cannot deny the hurt, disrespect, and outrage that I and so many others in this community felt about these actions that took place in our backyard, in our home at Houseman Field. This type of behavior should not and will not be tolerated in our stadium or schools – nor should it in any across our state and nation."
Behm says, "If someone is harmed or feels harmed by something I have done or an action someone has taken, the appropriate thing to do is say, 'I'm sorry.'"
Behm says many of his students, including those involved in the controversy, were dressed in red, white and blue to remember 9/11. He also says the Forest Hills Central football players have expressed regret to the Ottawa Hills players about what happened.
Both superintendents call the incident a teachable moment. Behm says the students involved won't be punished.
"There's not disciplinary consequences for these students, I think really what it is, is a situation of making sure they understand why it is that people saw their actions and were disturbed by their actions," Behm said.
The two schools will be facing off in other sports this year but not football.
"I think that relationship will only strengthen because of this unfortunate matter," Behm said.
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